Most evangelists, after advertising the opening night of a series of meetings in the newspapers and distributing handbills throughout the city, do not find it difficult to secure a crowd for that first night. Usually we have an overflow, regardless of the size of the tent, hall, or tabernacle. The question then is, How are we to keep these people coming? Here we must exercise wisdom and sanctified common sense.
The Saviour said, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
Matt. 10:16. There is much in this text for the evangelist who is both working to save sinners, and endeavoring to lead consecrated Christians into the true church of Christ for today. We surely must be both wise and harmless.
And one way to be wise is to win the confidence of the people who attend the meeting, before trying to get them to accept the necessary truths on the state of the dead, the Sabbath, and the law.
To be sure, the speaker must "make good" the first night, as no amount of advertising will bring the crowd back if he fails to grip their interest. As the minister looks out over the large audience of the first night, he looks into the faces of many sinners—men and women who have never made a profession. But he also gazes into the faces of men and women from various churches in the city; and most of this latter class are real Christians, as far as they know. They are honest with God and they believe the Bible.
The majority of these people have come just to find out what is going to be presented. They have already made up their minds that if we do not preach something they can approve they will never come again. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to win their confidence at the outset. And not only are we to gain the people who do not belong to any church, but we must secure the confidence of these honest-hearted professed Christians who come. These are the people who from the start will prove to be the greatest help to us.
How, then, are we going to win and hold this crowd? Shall we tell them that we will speak next on the law or the Sabbath? Shall we advertise that the "mark of the beast" will be an early subject? No, that is not sensible. We must create confidence in the fact that we are evangelical Christians. S6 let us rather announce that we will speak on "Christ Crucified," or "Christ, the Lamb of God," or some similar topic that will bring Christ our Saviour near to men. If we proceed along this line, we will soon have the church members saying, Amen.
We can sincerely ask them to pray that sinners may be saved in these services. We can tell them at the close of each sermon that we need the prayers of the Christian people. Soon they will be praying for our meetings. The honest in heart will not stay away, for they desire to see men and women give their hearts to God.
During the second week, after preaching a real revival sermon, I follow the plan of making a call, letting the people understand that we are not requesting any one to join a church, but that we are asking that men and women give their hearts fully to God. As many as seventy have come down the aisles and knelt at the platform, their tears flowing freely as they yielded their hearts to their Saviour. If we now look at our audience, we will observe many Christians from other churches weeping for joy. We may well make these calls two or three times a week for the first three or four weeks.
Now, what have we accomplished? We have won the confidence of the men and women who have been converted to Christ. But that is not all: We have likewise secured the support of the church members who are attending. These begin to tell other church members that we are preaching Christ, and that people are being converted.
And is that all we have gained? Far from it. After these people have had their confidence established in the evangelist, and feel that he knows the power of the precious blood of Christ, they cannot so easily criticize when he begins to discourse on the state of the dead, the law, and the Sabbath. Nor can they stay away. Why?—Because they have been praising his preaching to their friends. Many have even stood up in the tent and said they thanked God that the series started, and that they had found Christ their Saviour. If they were now to criticize, their neighbors would say: "Why do you complain when you have taken part in the meetings?" The members of other churches cannot well say anything against the work, as their friends would respond: "What is the trouble? You have been working very hard to get me down there. You said they were the best meetings you had ever attended."
My own experience has led me to believe that approximately seventy-five out of every hundred who come forward in the way described will continue to walk in the advancing light, and will be baptized. Many of the members of other churches also, who were faithful in attending and praying for the meetings, will likewise accept the truth. Let us follow the counsel of the Master Teacher, who said for our guidance, "Be ye therefore wise."